In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

DEA says Nebraska's purchase of lethal injection drugs was legal

A federal review of records related to Nebraska's purchase of lethal injection drugs found "nothing in violation of the law," an official with the Drug Enforcement Administration said late last week.

A DEA investigator made a March 19 on-site visit to the Nebraska State Penitentiary, which houses the execution chamber and stores lethal injection drugs. The review of records and drug inventories at the prison took place days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska called for an investigation into how state officials obtained the lethal drugs.

"Plain and simple, they're in compliance with Drug Enforcement Administration regulations," DEA Special Agent Matthew Barden of Omaha said in a phone interview late Friday afternoon.

In a March 12 letter to the DEA, the ACLU questioned whether prison officials had duped authorities into issuing a federal import permit by saying it was intended for a prison pharmacy located 4 miles away from the state pen. The ACLU also questioned whether Nebraska officials used a DEA permit issued to the prison clinic to purchase drugs from distributors who assumed they would be used for medical purposes.

"We did diligent research and presented important questions about these critical issues to the DEA. It is reassuring to know that the DEA took these allegations seriously and opened an investigation," said Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska.

Questions about how the drugs were obtained stem from the refusal of state authorities to reveal information about the supplier. Such suppliers have been increasingly difficult for death penalty states to come by.

Major pharmaceutical manufacturers have policies prohibiting the sale of their drugs for executions. Pfizer sent a letter to Nebraska officials last year saying three of the four drugs the state intends to use in a lethal injection are on the company's restricted list and should be returned.

Officials with the Corrections Department and the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts have refused to say whether the state had obtained Pfizer drugs. The officials also have declined to release records identifying the drug supplier, which has prompted independent public records lawsuits filed by The World-Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star and the ACLU. Those lawsuits are set for a trial Monday in Lancaster County District Court.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, Joe Duggan, May 12, 2018

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